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A Message (Short Story)

It's been a while, hasn't it Pambi?

Well, here goes nothing...


July 1943 – Dover Military Hospital, England

The smell of war lingered in the row of hospital tents like a fog had descended on it. You couldn’t see it but it could be smelt by everyone: it was on clothes, on skin, and everything one touched. It was a smell one got used to, especially the nurses and the doctors who worked tirelessly day and night to save lives. The smell even permeated one’s tea when one had time to drink it.

At least that is how Adele described it to those back home in London. It was the lightest way that she could describe it, when in reality the smell of war meant the stench of infected wounds, gangrene, and the inevitable sighs of death that escaped from the mouths of those who succumbed to the many – and various – injuries.

Though she did not think that those back home needed a reminder of what death smelt like. After the Blitz of 1940-1941, there was little she needed to say to those who had experienced death so close. While she had not been in London at the time of the Blitz as she had volunteered with the VAD as soon as war broke in 1939, she knew how frightening it was for those living in the midst of it. London had become a war zone.

Her father, a respect surgeon at the Royal Military Hospital in London, had inspired her to want to get into the field of medicine herself. She had been a nurse for three years before war broke out and did not hesitate to volunteer her expertise when the call to arms was made across the country.

The hospital in Dover was set up after the initial Blitz and was literally on the front lines of the war. Most of the causalities, to date, were airmen who were protecting the Channel from enemy aircraft crossings. It was usually their first stop for medical treatment. If their injuries required more intensive treatment, they were sent up to London or father north if necessary. For others, it was their first and last stop if the injuries sustained were too serious and beyond medical help. At least it was a place for them to die, instead of being shot down and left to die in a burning plane, or being drowned in the Channel if they happened to survive the initial hit.

Today had been a particularly bad day for casualties from a troop ship that had gone down from a U-boat hit. The dozens upon dozens of those who happened to be rescued were lying in long rows in the tent Adele was in. Two nurses per tent and a doctor made visits on his rounds between the three large tents that served as hospitals in this very dangerous part of England.
Adele looked down the long line of men that still waited for her attention but she went about her duties with a calmness not seen among many of the VAD nurses. Jenny called her “Nurse Nervy” because she was so calm and cool under pressure, but Adele just smiled at the nickname. She was only doing her bit and knew that getting upset or showing too much emotion around the men would not do them any favours, let alone for herself.

She needed to remain calm now more than ever as she realized Jenny was not well. She had looked sick for the past few days but today was definitely her worst. She was trying to hide it but Adele could clearly see she should not be on her feet.

“I’ll be alright”, Jenny said when Adele passed her as she went to get some supplies for a dressing.
“You look worse than some of the men.”
“I’ll be fine”, she protested but Adele could clearly hear the strength was not in her.
“At least go have a rest”.

As soon as Adele had said this, Dr. McCrae walked into the tent and started looking at a few men who he had been called to. They went about their business as usual, and she went back to the man she was dressing a foot wound for. They were working their way down the line from most serious to least serious as the men were flagged for which area of the tent they would be sent to depending on their wound.

She didn't hear as Dr. McCrae approached but felt him put his hand on her arm to pull her aside.
“I’m sending Jenny out. She’s not well. She’s running a temperature. Could be this bloody flu that’s going around”.

She looked at the concern on his face as he looked around at the men lying on the cots. She admired Dr. McCrae’s compassion for the men but for his staff as well.

“I’m trying to get you a replacement as soon as possible but it may be a few hours”, he said, apology in his voice as he told her this. She knew this meant she would be alone until another nurse could be brought from Folkstone. The Dover hospital, with its proximity to the Channel and the bombings, was not a popular place to be.

He gently patted her on the arm and said: “I know you’ll be fine”. He then walked away as there was little time for conversation.

After about two hours the worst of the cases had been seen to. Now it was a matter of dressing some of the minor wounds that Jenny had not had time to get to, so Adele made her way to that part of the tent.

She walked past a man who was asking for some water. She poured him a glass and passed it to him.

“Thank you.”
“That’s alright”, she said, taking the glass from him as he was clearly done.
“Is the other nurse coming back? She forgot to change my dressing.”

She could see that blood was seeping through a dressing on his shoulder that looked at least a day old.

“Are you in any pain?”

He shook his head and told her “no”. She would see to it when she got a few more things done. While infection was always a concern, the healthy colour to his face and lips told her that he was okay for a bit longer. He was in the least serious section of the tent.

She didn’t get back to him until after sunset, about an hour and a half later. Jenny’s replacement wasn’t there yet and she wondered if she would be alone all night. The only good thing about nighttime was that the heat from the sun had waned and there was a cool breeze coming from the sea. Otherwise, the nighttime did not bring relief to the worst off cases who could not get comfortable or sleep.

When she got back to the man with the shoulder wound, he was still sitting up and writing in a notebook. He looked up at her and smiled when he saw her, though she could clearly see that there was fatigue in his eyes.

“How do I look?” he asked her.
After a moment she said, “healthy”.
“I’ve felt better, that’s for sure, but I suppose I’m lucky I got away with this.”

She sat down on a stool by his left side, as it was his left shoulder that needed the dressing done. She did not respond but got to work on what needed to be done. She started cutting away at the bloody bandage, careful as to not aggravate the wound. She wasn’t sure how bad it was underneath, but once she removed it she was relieved to see that it wasn’t bad at all.

“What happened?”
“Not sure. The plane was hit and I did my best to land her. It wasn’t until I was actually out of the plane that I realized my shoulder had been hit.”
“Well, lucky for you it isn’t nearly as bad as all this blood looks. Whoever dressed it didn’t wrap it properly.”
“But you’ll make sure it’s done nicely, won’t you?”

The way he said this made her look at him momentarily, but the look in his eyes told her to keep working. The last thing she needed was to be distracted by a cheeky flirtatious pilot.

To break the tension that he had created, as he felt he obviously made her feel uncomfortable, he said:

“You’re on your own here, aren’t you?”
“The other nurse took sick and was ordered to rest.”

She was cleaning the wound at this point and admired the way he did not flinch as she applied some strong medicine on the wound itself. No sharp intakes of breath or flinches of pain.

“Well I hope she feels better…but not too soon.”
“They’ll be sending a replacement tonight.”
“That’s a pity…I was rather enjoying having you sitting here at my bedside.”

If it’s one thing that the nurses got used to very quickly, it was the way men flirted with them when they were at their most vulnerable. It didn’t matter if they were navy, infantrymen, or airmen, they were all the same. You had to have nerves of steel when they were at their worst and you also had to lock away emotions and feelings. There was no time for flirting on the front lines, not when lives were involved.

“Lift your arm, please”.
At this point she had started dressing and wrapping the clean wound, wounding the tape carefully around his shoulder. “Almost done.”

She could feel the intensity with which he was looking at her. When she was done, she allowed herself to look at him in the eyes. It was difficult to tell what colour they were in the dimly lit tent. She pushed the thought out of her mind - as if that mattered. It was a momentary lapse.

“Thank you”, he said, a sincere gesture of appreciation on his part.
“Try to get some rest.”

He leaned back on the bed and she watched as his tired eyes looked at her. It appeared he wanted to say something but did not. She left him to see to the others.

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Re: A Message (Short Story)

It was 6am. The sun was coming up and peeping through the spots in the tent that had been left open to let in some fresh air. Adele was just coming back from a short nap that she had taken while being relived temporarily by another one of the nurses from one of the other tents. She had managed to dose off for about 45 minutes. It did her the world of good – that and a cup of tea. Until Jenny’s replacement arrived she would not be able to get a real rest.

When she returned to her duties, she noticed that a man had just died. He must have died while she was on her break. She went over, checked his pulse to make sure, then covered his face with the sheet. She saw the man beside his bed looking at him. She could see the obvious fear in his eyes that he was going to be next. The truth was that this was the section of the tent with the most serious wounds.

She went over to the man causally and looked at his leg wound. She was happy to see that the morphine had not worn off.

“It’s looking better this morning”.

These words were to encourage him that he would not be next, though the truth was that she did not know if that was true.

When she made her way through the beds she could see that some of the men were still sleeping, while others were resting. There were the ones she knew would be dead soon. These were the ones that usually stared straight ahead, or up at the ceiling. They had a look in their eyes that could not be mistaken for death.

About an hour after returning to her duties, she found herself at the bed of the pilot with the shoulder wound. His eyes were closed and she quietly checked to see how his dressing looked.

“How do I look, Nurse?”

She was surprised to hear his voice.

“It looks good. I think you’ll probably be sent out in a day or two.”

“Sent out” meant that he would be moved on to London, where he would need another few weeks in the hospital before, in all likelihood, being returned to duty.

“Will you be coming with me, by any chance?”
“I think you know the answer to that”, she said, without looking at him.

She picked up the chart that was at the foot of his cot and read the instructions for medication.

“That’s a pity. I rather like looking at you.”

There was that cheeky sound in his voice that made her look up at him from the chart. For a moment – but only a moment – she tried to imagine that she wasn’t in a hospital and that this wasn’t war and that this man lying in front of her was the most handsome man she had ever seen. Whatever truth there was to that last thought, she pushed it out of her mind. She looked back down at the chart.

“You need a shot. Did the nurse from yesterday give you anything?”
“No, not that I can recall.”

She went to get the required syringe and medication. She was cleaning the injection site with rubbing alcohol when he said:

“What if I’m lying and she did give me a shot?”
She furrowed her brows slightly and looked at him. “Why would you do that?”
“I don’t know…perhaps to have you all to myself for a minute…so that I don’t have to share you with the dozens of other men in here.”

There was a seriousness to his face and voice as he said this. While she should have been upset with him for playing this game with her, she could not be. Not on the inside, anyway.

“These dozens of men need me, most of them more so than you do.”
 “Right now I need you”, he spoke softly.

She was fidgeting with the packaging for the needle, trying to distract herself from his words. She was angry at herself for allowing her focus to be altered momentarily, so as she filled the syringe she looked intently at what she was doing.

Without hesitation, she injected him with the needle. Perhaps it was her attempt to detract him from what he was saying. She didn’t like to be trifled with. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt him if he had already had the shot yesterday when he arrived.

“You’re beautiful.”
She removed the needle.
“I know you probably hear that from every man you treat, but I really do –“
“As you can see, I don’t have time to listen to your flirtatious babble”.

She got up from the bed and collected the remnants from the packaging.

“You look tired. You should get some rest”, she told him.
“It’s difficult to sleep here…too distracted.”

She ventured a look at him and saw a slight, tired smile on his face as he was feeling the effects of the shot that was making him a bit sleepy.
“That will help then.”

Her replacement came an hour or so later. Adele was relieved to get to the room she usually occupied with Jenny, but Dr. McCrae insisted she share a room with someone else for a few days until her roommate got over her flu. He told her the last thing he needed was for one of his best nurses to be out of commission for a week.

She slept for about 5 hours before she awoke to the sound of planes overhead. She knew instantly from the direction they were going in, plus the sound of the engines, that they were British planes going out on patrol over the Channel. Since the Blitz England was on guard.

It was funny for her to think how one could get used to the sound of fighter jets whizzing by overhead. She closed her eyes and for a moment – just for a moment – fantasized she was lying in her bed back in her old flat in London. She thought it would be nice if she could just lay in bed all day and read a book. But when she opened her eyes and saw the dimness of the room, the brown walls and the strained light coming in through the window, she knew that she was far from home.

She thought of Matthew as she laid there. She thought of how she must have hurt him but only because he had hurt her. No, that was a lie. She would never allow herself to be hurt. She had hurt him. They had grown up together as he was friends with her brother and she had considered him like a brother for most of her life, until one day he became a young man who fell in love with her. Her studies, however, were far too important to her to let any distraction such as Matthew stand in the way. Besides, she was being pushed by her father who was disappointed that his son did not want to follow in his footsteps into medicine; instead, he would concentrate on his daughter.

She pushed the thought of Matthew away from her mind and closed her eyes. It was no use trying to forget where she was and what her duties were to the men in those tents.

The next morning she started her shift. There were more empty beds from the previous day, from the more seriously wounded side of the tent. Jenny’s replacement had taken over her previous section, so she was at the other end of the tent with the least serious cases. Dr. McCrae came in with a clipboard and chart.

“Sleep did you some good”, he said. She looked up at him and admired his kind face.
“It looks like you could use some of it yourself.”
He smiled without looking up at her.
“You know me too well…you all do.” He passed her the chart. “This is a list of the men from this section being taken to London later today. The ambulances should be here by 16:00 hours.”

She scanned the chart with her eyes and saw there were about a dozen or so names on it.

“It’ll free up some of the beds at least”, he said before leaving.

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Re: A Message (Short Story)

She made her way to those on the list to inform them they would be leaving later that day. Most of the men in that section were naval men who were the victims of the U-Boat attack. These were the lucky ones: there were several who never made it out of that water; there were others at the other end of the tent that would have been better off if they had remained there as well.

She helped some of them with their kit and to gather their things; others she helped to dress. These men were the lucky ones: they would be going on to hospitals where there was hope.

She noticed as she weaved through the beds of men, all in the same section, that the pilot was writing in his notebook. There were a few instances where he would look up at her, like a naughty schoolboy who was trying to hide a secret note from his teacher. But then she thought herself crazy for thinking like this and for letting her mind be distracted.

She left the pilot for last: Lieutenant Thomas Hiddlestone. It was deliberate on her part.

When he saw her approach, he put his notebook down and smiled at her. He folded his hands on his lap. Her approach brightened up his face immediately and she all of sudden felt like they were alone, as if she was the only person in the room with him. But it was only for a moment.

“Good morning, Nurse.”
“Good morning, Mr. Hiddleston.”
“Now why is it you know my name and I don’t know yours?”

She was cradling the chart in her arms up against her chest. He was sitting up in the bed, looking up at her with an obvious air about him. It was then that she thought about the fact that he was from an upper class background. She didn’t need to see his rank to realize that; it was in the way he spoke. You could almost guess which part of London he was from by the way he spoke and his demeanour.

“My name hardly matters”, she said dismissively, yet he must have hinted a hesitation in her voice.
“On the contrary…I would like to put a name to the face I see every time I’ve tried to close my eyes these past two days.”

She looked down at him without emotion.

“I told you yesterday that you’d be moved out in a day or two. It looks like today is the day. The field ambulance will be here by mid-afternoon to take you to London.”
“Well, I am disappointed that you won’t be accompanying me there.”

She went to walk away but he stopped her with his voice.

“Thank you for everything.”

She looked back and then realized she had helped the other men whom she had told were leaving. She took out the bundle from under his bed and put it beside him. His wound was not serious enough to prevent him from dressing his upper body. She removed a shirt from the package and sat down on the bed in order to help him put it on. She had done it with the others very robotically and determined to do the same with him, but he proved to be a bit more challenging.

When he sat up so that she could slip the shirt around the back of him, she felt his shoulder touch her chest. It could not be avoided, and neither could the fact that her face was against his as she took her time in helping him slip the sleeve through his one arm. Partly this was because she wanted to be careful with his shoulder but the other part of her thought he might be enjoying the closeness, even though she was trying to be as robotic as possible. This was done in silence and she was glad for it, though that wasn’t exactly true. The sound of his breathing filled her ears and the feel of his breath on her neck shut the world out in those moments. Perhaps that is why she lingered.

When done, she sat back as he tugged the other sleeve over his left arm, but his was as far as she would help. He would have to button up his own shirt. As she paused momentarily to watch that he was getting on alright with the task, he took the opportunity to speak to her.

“Please tell me your name”.

The way he said it – the sincerity in his voice – made her give in.

“Nurse Adele.”

“Thank you, Nurse Adele, for everything.” He cautiously put his hand over hers before he continued. “Perhaps we’ll meet again.”
“I should hope not”, she said standing up, giving herself the distance she needed to be professional. She had been in close proximity with men for the past 4 years, and even before the war, but there was an uneasy feeling about being close to this man.

“I hope you never have to come near a hospital again and survive the war.”

She smiled as much as she was used to smiling in such situations and turned away. She was going to ask the replacement nurse to trade areas with her now.

“Perhaps we’ll meet in happier circumstances then.”

She took once last look and said sincerely: “Good luck”, before walking briskly away. Her last impression of him was the colour of his eyes: blue. The colour of the ocean before a storm.

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Re: A Message (Short Story)


December 24th, 1943 – The Royal Horseguards Hotel, Westminster, London

The interior of the ballroom at the Royal Horseguards Hotel, in Westminster, was decked out in Christmas lights on every pillar so that when one stood at the back of the room, as Tom was, it looked like standing in a cathedral. Between every pillar were Christmas trees, at least 10 feet tall, decked out in glittering lights so that the whole room seemed to sparkle.

The contrast was that outside it was completely dark. The street lights had been left off and most houses were dim, save for a warm glow of Christmas trees and fireplaces inside many of the homes. There was a noticeable chill in the air, not uncommon for this time of year in London but it seemed especially crisp this night.

As it was Christmas Eve, people were in the festive spirit all around London. Inside homes, offices, flats, and hotel ballrooms, people were celebrating the season. In reality, everyone, deep down, was celebrating the fact that they had survived another year of war. Even those absent were still present, in spirit at least, as their pictures were sitting on mantles of homes or in the pockets and hearts of those elsewhere. Not many people were walking the streets on this night as many feared to do so after dark, especially since the Blitz of 1940-1941. While the main attack was thankfully over, the reality was that the German planes were still making random attacks on the city from time to time. Thanks to the RAF and accurate patrols, this was less and less and not an everyday reality. But no one was thinking about the Blitz tonight; even the Germans had better things to do on Christmas Eve.

On the hour the bells of St. Paul’s could be heard in the distance, but the bells could not be heard inside the ballroom of the hotel. There was a band playing and most people were on the dance floor. Tom was standing almost in the middle of group of school chums and fellow airmen in his squadron, being the centre of attention as usual. Girls swarmed around the dashing young men in uniform like bees around honey and they were teasing each other about which one they would like to “sting” first. Most of the girls around them had their eyes on Tom but they couldn’t seem to get his attention.

“I don’t think I remember that”, John said to Tom when he was recounting a story.
“Everyone from Eton remembers that. You’re having voluntary amnesia.”
“That may be so”, his friend said smiling. “I don’t remember a lot from those years. I think perhaps too much alcohol…but you can never have enough of that”, he said, downing the last bit of his wine.
“Agreed”, Tom said, finishing his glass as well.

“This is a splendid party, isn’t it?” a young man named Peter said, slapping them both on the backs. “So many pretty things to look at.”

The three men looked out over the crowd of glittering lights and girls in fancy dresses, admiring the views.

“And what about you, old chap?” Peter said turning to Tom. “I heard you were being made squadron leader.”
“Who told you that rubbish?” Tom said with a slight furrow of the brows, but also a slight smile on his lips.
“Rumours like that spread like wildfire, you know that.”
“Well that’s just it – a rumour.”
“But you’re the man for the job.”
“Am I? I’m not sure I’m the man for any job.”
Both Peter and John laughed.
“So modest. That’s what we all love about you.”

There was no hint of jealousy on the part of his fellow airmen or friends, and that’s what made them part of a special group. It was a bond they had formed in university and now the air force. The truth was, Tom was the man for the job and they all knew it. No one questioned it. They all knew his skills in the cockpit and how many “kills” he had recorded so far. Tom was also respected for his natural leadership skills and confidence under pressure. Even in his university days he was good at everything he tried. The part that he tried to conceal from people is that he never had to do revision while in school – at least not much of it. Truth was that he was a natural at whatever he set his mind to. What people loved about him was that he was modest about his accomplishments and didn’t try to flaunt himself.

Peter left the group and decided to go off to dance with a tall blonde-haired girl whom he had been chatting up all night. Most of the others joined in when a slow number started.

“Tom, this is my sister Samantha”, said Robert.

This was one of the group of young men who Tom had come with that night. He did not know him all that well but liked him well enough.

“Hello”, Tom said, taking her hand. Samantha blushed and said “hello” in a barely audible voice.
“My sister would like to dance with you”, Robert said, causing his sister to blush, almost as red as her hair. Tom felt her embarrassment but her brother continued: “She’s been asking me all –“

To save the girl any more embarrassment, Tom abruptly said, cutting him off:
“I was just looking for a dance partner”, with a smile and a gentlemanly manner that was lost on the brother but not the sister. He extended his arm and led her to the dancefloor.

The slow song meant that most of the other people at her table got up to dance, while Adele remained. She eyed the room after she took a sip of her rosé and admired the way the Christmas lights twinkled in the dimly lit ballroom. She loved Christmas and was glad to be back in London to be with her family and friends. Sadly, her brother wasn’t there as he was still overseas and she thought of him as she looked out at the crowd of dancers mingled on the dancefloor. She wondered if he was alright, but she pushed the thought out of her mind because she knew worrying about him wasn’t going to give her any answers.

“Aren’t you going to dance?”
This was her friend Robin whose voice had broken her out of her train of thought.
“No, not right now.”

Robin was taking a break after having danced at least a dozen dances that night.

“The place is crawling with eligible young men and you’re here looking like a sour grape.”

Adele smiled, feeling a bit embarrassed that her emotions were showing on her face.

“Sorry”, she apologized.
“What’s on your mind?”
“I can see you’re lost in thought.”
“It’s just being home for Christmas without Will is kind of bringing me down.”

Robin put her hand on Adele’s arm.
“You don’t think everyone in this room is worrying about someone over there? It’s not going to help him or you.”
“I can’t help it.”

When the song was over, the others returned to the table and the mirth continued. It was difficult for Adele to not get caught up in the Christmas cheer and she allowed herself to have a bit of fun by dancing with the others. The fact was that most of these friends from London did not understand her life and did not know what she saw and did on a day-to-day basis.

Sometimes, when she was away from the hospitals, she thought she could smell it – that smell that lingered in the military hospitals near the front. She sometimes wondered if it was a permanent smell that was in her hair and on her skin, but she knew that in all likelihood she was imagining it. Besides, tonight was not the night to think about those things. It was Christmas Eve and she was determined to have a good time.

She went with a group of them to the dancefloor as many were starting to do the swing. She did the dance with her friend Lucy, swapping places with several from the group. This went on for about 10 minutes before Robin pulled her away.

“I have to go to the toilet so bad. Come with me.”
“Okay”, Adele said, slightly out of breath. “I guess I should fix my hair. How does it look? Am I a mess?”
“You look beauuutiful darling!” Robin said, pulling her along. “Now let me tell you about a gorgeous young pilot I’ve been chatting up all night.”

She was tugged along by Robin until they got to the washrooms at the other side of the ballroom as she heard her dish about some chap named Peter. He was, no doubt, one of the many in her repertoire of men.
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Re: A Message (Short Story)

Adele listened but her feet were hurting slightly and she took the opportunity to remove them temporarily when they were inside the washroom. After a minute or so, she put her heels back on and checked out her appearance in the full length mirror. She could hardly believe what she saw in the mirror: an elegant young lady in an emerald green evening dress. As she was touching her hair to fix the curls, part of her did so out of wonder if this was really her own hair and if she was actually wearing this dress. It had been well over three years since she had dressed up like this. The reflection she was used to seeing was her white nursing uniform, her black hair pulled back in a bun, covered by her nursing cap. This was not the Adele she recognized: it was the girl in her past, before the war.

She sat down on one of the chaise lounge chairs and waited for Robin to finish, admiring the décor of the washroom: chandeliers hanging from the ceiling; damask wallpaper; plush carpeting. This was a long way from Dover hospital.

When she realized Robin was no longer in the washroom, she walked out to see that she was standing near the entrance to the hallway leading to the washrooms chatting with some young airmen that must have been Peter.

“Adele, honey, meet Peter, the darling I’ve been going on about.”

Adele smiled and he extended his hand. He had a devilish look in his eyes when he looked at her – just the type that Robin always liked. She left them to talk and made her way through the thick crowd back to her table. Before she could get there, she was stopped by the sound of a voice:

“Nurse Adele!”

She stopped momentarily, wondering if she was imaging it, and then kept walking. It was a man’s voice.

“Nurse Adele!”

It sounded closer. She hesitated but then turned around and saw a tall man fighting his way through the crowd to get to her. His eyes she recognized but could not place where or when she had seen them before. The eagle crest on his uniform told her he was an airman.

He was smiling, slightly out of breath when he reached her. He was close to her now and she looked up at him as he looked down at her.

“Nurse Adele”, he said again, much softer, lower, and gentler this time. His voice was crisp and she seemed to know it. “I thought it was you.”

She gave a bit of a puzzled look but smiled slightly as she asked: “I’m sorry?”

It was then that Tom realized she did not recognize him. Granted, he had been wounded and did not look his best, and it had been many months ago, but part of him was slightly hurt by this.

“Dover. Last July. I was wounded in the shoulder. I asked you your name and –“

Now she remembered.

Oh, yes…I remember now.”

She smiled, genuinely pleased to see him. She looked him over as discreetly as possible.

“You’re looking…well”, was all she managed to say. The fact was that while it felt slightly uncomfortable to be standing so close, she could not deny the physical appeal this man had. His hair was neatly combed back and his eyes were blue – the colour of the ocean before a storm. He was tall and filled out his uniform well. She tried not to notice too much.

“Thank you. You look –“ his voice trailed off momentarily as he remembered her coldness from the hospital, but that was then and this was now. “Beautiful.”

He wasn’t afraid to add that last bit but he could see her blush slightly and this gave him some hope.

“It’s Tom.”
“Hello again, Tom.”
He paused but then said:
“When I saw you, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. I was almost too afraid to call out but I’m glad I did. It’s very nice to see you again.”

They were standing close to one another as people swarmed around them in the crowded room. He could not read her expression and he remembered how this was true as well when he first met her.

“Do you remember what I said to you?” he asked her. He knew she would not know the answer to the question but he asked it anyway. The truth was, he remembered everything about their meeting. “I said that I hoped to see you again, and my wish came true.”

She thought he was very sweet and boyish, even though she could tell he was very much a man. She felt slightly uncomfortable. After all, she did not know him and she did not know what to say. She played with her hair for a second, a nervous habit that she rarely showed but that he picked up on.

“It’s a small world, I guess” was all she managed to get out.
“It’s not as small as you think…when you’re up in a plane, everything looks like miniature toys, even buildings. You can’t even see people, not unless you’re flying at a low altitude. You realize how small we are in the grand scheme of things, but you also realize how big the world is to have so many people in it.”

She was looking up at him, looking into his deep blue eyes, feeling a bit memorized by the sound of his voice. Despite the music playing and the sound of voices and laughter in the room, his was the only voice and presence she could hear and feel. For once, she allowed herself to be taken away from where she was.

“Take this ballroom, for instance. How many people are in here tonight? What are the chances that we’re both here at the same time, and that I just happened to see you amongst all these people?”

She knew what he was trying to say but his words didn’t really sink in. His smile broke her out of herself.

“Will you dance with me?”
“I’m not really fond of this type of dance”, she lied. She had just been dancing the swing with some of her friends.
“The next slow song then.”
She hesitated.
“No, thank you.”
“I promise to be a perfect gentleman.”
“I’m actually on my way out. I have an early shift in the morning.”
“Working on Christmas morning?”
“War hospitals don’t know it’s a holiday.”

It was true: she had to work in the morning but she wasn’t intending on leaving as soon as she made it sound. After she said this, she could see Robin nearby and did not want to get her involved in the conversation. Her friend waved at her and she feared that she might be on her way over and that is the last thing she wanted. She didn’t feel like being embarrassed tonight, not in front of him.

She could see he looked disappointed but wasn’t ready to take “no” for an answer. Before he could say anything more, the only way she could think of making her exit was by saying:

“I hope you have a merry Christmas, Tom.”
“Happy Christmas”, he said, a disappointment in his eyes.
“It was truly nice to see you. Good luck with…everything.”

He seemed to recall that she wished him “good luck” the last time he saw her in Dover. He was hurt that she was walking away. Every fibre of his being wanted to chase her and convince her of all the reasons that she should dance with him. He was trying his best to be as charming as possible but it was having no effect on her and he, for once in his life, was feeling a lack of confidence; unnerved, even.

His eyes watched her walk away, the green dress hugging on her body as her hips moved through the crowd. He felt a lump enter his throat as he cursed himself for letting her go like this. He had thought about her often since he had met her in Dover and was ashamed at the fact that he had never tried to reach out more, or ask to stay in touch. It was something he had regretted often. Now, he feared as coming across too strong and frightening her off. He felt that he may have blown his chance.

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Re: A Message (Short Story)

“Hey”, someone said and he felt a hand on his shoulder. “We thought we’d lost you.”
Tom turned. “I’ve just made a colossal mistake”, he said.
“I’ve just made a fool of myself in front of someone, that’s all.”
“A woman…actually, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

At this, his friend smiled and gave him a slight slap on the face, as if to wake him up.

“In case you’ve not noticed, this place is crawling with beautiful women.”
When Tom didn’t respond, his friend continued.
“Lots of other fish, Tommy boy.”
“But not all fish bite.”

Tom was thinking as his eyes scanned over the room, the way he did when in the cockpit of the plane, in the midst of a dogfight.

“You’ve never had a problem getting fish to bite before.”

Tom looked down at the man.

“You know what it’s like when you’re in a dog fight and you have your target right in front of you?”
Tom suddenly had a serious look on his face that made the listener watch him intently as he was speaking.
“Well, for me at least, when the target’s too easy, for some reason, I don’t enjoy the kill as much…it doesn’t feel as good as the ones that make your heart beat out of your chest and the sweat sting your eyes. You think you’re going to die, and then you get him. You hit your target.”

The man looked up at him and smiled, seeing his point.
“The thrill of the chase then…”
“Something like that.”

When Adele returned to the table, she picked up her purse.

“Where are you going?” Lucy asked her.
“Have an early start tomorrow. I should be going so that I can enjoy some of Christmas Eve with my parents.”

Lucy understood this was but was still sad to see her leaving. However, that was always like Adele to put her duty as nurse before everything else.

“Happy Christmas”, she said to Lucy, giving her a kiss. The others were dancing and mingling with the crowd. “Tell the others I’ll see them in a few days.”
“New Year’s Eve? We’re getting together at Mark’s country house. It’ll be fun.”
“I’ll let you know.”

One last kiss on the cheek and she was on her way. She squeezed her way through, close to the wall, and got to the coat check. Giving her number, she waited for her coat.

“Would you like us to get you a cab, Ms. Owen?”

She waited for the cab on the front steps of the hotel. It was a chilly night and there was snow lightly falling. She looked up at the sight, not uncommon this time of year but not common either. The cab pulled up and she slipped inside. Once inside she felt safe, but there was a small part of her, in the pit of her stomach, that regretted it. For a second she thought to ask him to stop and take her back, but then it was only for a moment when she knew she should be getting home to her parents for Christmas Eve.

Tom had not seen her leave so when he reached what he thought was the table she had been sitting at, he was disappointed to see that she wasn’t there. He thought maybe he had made a mistake. He was about to leave when he saw his friend Peter approach the table with the blonde girl he had been with nearly all night.

“Tom, I’m afraid she’s already spoken for”, he said jokingly. “Besides, you can have just about any woman in this place but you can’t have her.”
“Please” Tom said, embarrassed.
“Do you know the number of women that hit on him every time we go out?”
“I can see why”, said Robin, smiling at Tom.
“Yes, but not the right one”, he said, a regret in his voice that they did not detect.
“This is my table”, Robin said. “Why don’t you sit down with us?”
This seemed to give Tom some hope.
“You wouldn’t happen to know Adele, would you? I don’t know her last name, only that she’s a nurse with the VAD. I met her in Dover last summer.”
Robin was looking him over, smiling. He had a calmness in him but she could see an eagerness in his eyes. She felt like teasing him but decided it would be cruel.
 “Yes, I know her. Adele is a friend.”
Tom was relieved and a determined look came into his eyes.
“Can I ask for a favour?”
“I’ll try”, she said, looking at him curiously. She watched as he took out a notebook from his inner coat pocket and leant over the table to write something down. It only took him a few seconds and then he tore out the page, folded it, and looked at Robin.
“Could you kindly give this message to her?”
“Sure”, she said, smiling as she took it from his hand.

Tom walked away, thinking he had stumbled upon some good luck. Just when he was about to give up, thinking she had gone out of his sight, or that he had lost her in the crowd, a bit of good fortune smiled down on him. He had delivered his message and now it was up to fate to decide the rest. So far in Tom’s life he had never missed whatever target he was aiming at, and he did not intend to miss now.

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Re: A Message (Short Story)

 emoticon What a nice story! I say nice because so far the relationship between Tom and Adele is still forming and they've been merely polite to one another, though Tom is more than a little interested in Nurse Adele. But there is a little interest on Adele's part too--however, she is duty-bound and seems to use her important work as a war-time nurse as a barrier between herself and romance. At this point it's hard to tell if it's because of a broken heart from her younger days before the war, but I'm sure if that's the case you will provide the back story for her reluctance to open her heart. Tom is very determined to win her affection, so I'm sure the latest favor he asked of her friend Robin will result in a future meeting. I enjoyed the description of his quest being similar to his pilot's pursuit of the "target", and how an easy "get" doesn't hold his interest the same way that a more elusive quarry would. Tom is a confident man, having a privileged upbringing hasn't made him snobbish or elitist, but it's sort of obvious he's used to getting what he wants, whether it's a German in his cross-hairs or a woman he seeks to know better. Most people with such a single-minded purpose end up succeeding, however the chase is much more satisfying if there is a challenge.

Adele doesn't see herself as a challenge, but merely a young woman with an important job she feels obligated to give first priority. Still, she gives off the air of being lonely, though surrounded by good friends and loving family. When all her friends are dancing away at the festive venue at the Christmas party, she's content to sip her wine and be the proverbial wallflower. She seems weary at the same time eager to shake off the burdens of her vocation. I hope she softens her view of Tom's pursuit of her and sees it as a chance to fall in love, because I think Tom's already fallen. Looking forward to more!

I love reading your descriptions of the hospital tents, London at Christmas time (very beautiful decorations at the party) and the historical accuracy of the war's history for England and Europe. It was easy to see in my mind's eye what you were describing, and makes me want to see London in all her Christmas finery, minus the war, lol. It is sobering to imagine how the wounded soldiers felt as they were brought to the tents be cared for; it was probably obvious from which tent they were taken to what their immediate prognosis was. I'm sure all the compassionate nurses and doctors were looked upon as angels as they made their rounds, giving as much comfort and aid as possible, and if death was imminent, easing the soldier's passing with as little pain and as much care as possible. It's for that reason that the nurses and doctors are probably rotated in and out as much as possible, to keep them from becoming numb to the suffering. It's good that Adele has managed to find a bit of levity and holiday spirit for a few hours or days, knowing what she will ultimately face as her shift starts anew on Christmas day. Here's hoping that Tom's message makes its way to her ASAP and that she responds to it positively, arranging to meet him at some future date.

It was wonderful to "read" you again! Keep it up! XOXOX
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Re: A Message (Short Story)


December 31st, 1943 – Hyde Park Hotel, Knightsbride, London

The massive clock on the wall at the end of the room signalled the time on New Year’s Eve. The ballroom was decked out for the occasion to welcome in the new year – 1944. While this would signal the fifth year of an already exhaustive war – a war that had taken so much out of them already – there was the hope that this new year might see the end.

Tom tried not to look at the clock on the wall but his eyes kept reverting to it as he nervously sipped his wine. He was at table # 21, alone. Watching the couples on the dancefloor as their bodies swayed together in unison made him feel his loneliness all the more. Every sip of wine he took made him feel worse so he stopped drinking.

He purposely chose this hotel because no one he knew would be there. Tonight he wanted anonymity. Well, from everyone except for Adele. Ironically, the one person he wanted to notice him and to be with tonight wasn’t there. Perhaps she wanted anonymity as well. She wasn’t exactly overly receptive to him when he saw her Christmas Eve so why on earth did he imagine she would be receptive to meeting him tonight?

He looked at the clock for the millionth time and saw that is was close to 9:30. If she didn’t show in half an hour, he was leaving. That’s what he said an hour ago.

He had asked her to meet him there for 8:00pm. Did she even get his note? As the seconds ticked by, and then minutes, he started to feel like a complete fool. She wasn’t going to show and he was making an ass out of himself. He wasn’t angry at her though, just more upset with himself for thinking that a short handwritten note could somehow convince her to meet him when she had shown no interest.

And yet, he kept thinking of some of the “hints” he had thought she was unconsciously leaving. The way she nervously tucked her hair behind her ears; the way she looked up at him; the way she seemed at a loss for words at times. Or was he imaging all this? Was he seeing what he wanted to see? For all he knew, she could be married with children…but then why had her friend agreed to deliver his note to her? Surely she would have told him he was wasting his time? Surely Adele would have told him the same?

All these questions with no hope for answers.


He heard his name and turned around to see her standing behind him. He got up and nearly knocked over his glass of wine in the process, feeling a bit foolish but hardly caring. He was smiling from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat.

“Thank you for coming.”

He was standing with her and hardly knew what else to say. He was looking at her in her red evening gown and wondering if he should tell her how gorgeous she looked or play it more low key. He didn’t want to frighten her off but the fact that she was there made a lump form in his throat.

He felt like a kid on Christmas morning who had begged and pleaded with his parents to get him that special toy and now that he had it, he wasn’t sure what to do with it. It was a present too perfect to play with. And she looked like a present – all wrapped up in red.

“Please, sit down.”

He pulled out the chair opposite his at the table. She hadn’t said anything else yet and he wondered if she was going to ever speak. The seconds felt much longer.

Adele sat down opposite and laid her purse down on the table. She felt exposed and her fear told her she should have never come here tonight, but there was that other part of her that wanted to be there. It was the part of her that she suppressed on a daily basis because she felt it was her duty to do so. Besides, no one had time for fun during the war: it was a time for gritting your teeth and getting down to work. Her work was what drove her on a daily basis and she always found an excuse for not doing this or not doing that. She had almost not shown up there tonight; almost told the cab driver to turn around and go back to her flat, but she feared looking like an idiot. Then when she got there she waited several minutes before actually going inside. She felt so strange watching couples and groups of people going in the hotel while she stood outside, wanting desperately to have a fag but she forgot them at home.

The cold ushered her inside and now here she was, face to face with the man who was the whole reason why she had come.

“I got your message.”
“I was beginning to think you hadn’t.”
With hesitation, she said:
“I wasn’t going to come.”
“What made you change your mind?”

She did not answer.

“I was going to order us some dinner but it got late. Are you hungry?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? I can order us something.”
“I’m fine.”

He felt his stomach muscles tightening and tried not to focus too much on his nerves.

“Can I get you something to drink then?”
“Wine, please. Rosé.”

He got up and said he would be right back. She watched him walk to the bar to order the drinks. He was wearing a black tuxedo and looked very smart. She thought she ought to tell him so as she knew she was being a terrible date.

When he came back, he placed the glass in front of her and sat down. She took a sip and enjoyed the taste, noticing how he was sitting across from her. She looked around the room. They were sitting up a few steps higher than the dancefloor. The tables surrounded the entire dancefloor in a massive u shape. The lights hanging from the ceiling made you feel like you were looking up at millions of stars.

“You might think this is forward of me but I think you look stunning in that dress.”
“Thank you…you also look very handsome tonight.”

He smiled and almost laughed when she said this.

“Is that a compliment?”
“I’m just stating a fact.”
“I like facts then. You should tell me some more.”
“What would you like to know?”

He thought for a second.

“What’s your favourite food?”
“I can’t remember…we’ve been on rations so long I can’t remember what real food tastes like.”
“What’s your favourite colour?”
“Red”, she said, without hesitating.
He smiled.
“And it suits you very well.”
She blushed and took another sip of her wine. He didn’t want to come on too strong though he felt his questions were innocent enough.
“Your turn”, he said, turning the table on her.
“Why did you choose the air force?”

This was honestly the first question that came to mind though, deep down, there were many others. She just didn’t know how to access them yet.

“I think it chose me. There was nothing else for it. Just one of those things, I guess. Everyone knew that planes would be a big factor in this war and I had my mind made up: it was air force or nothing else.”

She heard a confidence in his voice that she liked. There was no hesitation in what he was saying – just honesty.

“Why did you choose the VAD?”
“Same thing. I was a nurse before the war so it seemed like the right thing to do.”
“I should have known. You had an added touch that none of the others had when I first met you.”

Most VAD nurses were volunteers and not trained the way Adele was. He was paying her a compliment.

“It was the only thing for me. I admire the women who volunteer but most of them are inexperienced and crack under the pressure.”

It wasn’t a criticism, just a fact.

“I couldn’t imagine doing what you do”, he said sincerely.
“I couldn’t imagine doing what you do.”
“Two different things, really. You save lives and I destroy them.”
“No, by destroying you save them…men like you are saving this country.”

Not a compliment but a fact. He took it as such but he was happy to have some words out of her. Maybe it was the fact that her glass of wine was nearly done that the words were coming out easier now but he could still detect a guardedness to her.

“I have another question: will you dance with me tonight?”

She paused, holding her glass in her hands.

“That depends.”
“On what? How well I behave?” he said teasingly.
“On how many of these I have”, she said, indicating the wine.

When he smiled it was the first time she smiled back sincerely. The wine was definitely helping her to relax and she liked that. It wasn’t a feeling she experienced very often.

Last edited by OrlilLicious, 8/31/2017, 3:34 am
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Re: A Message (Short Story)

Not long after he got her another because she asked him to. While at the bar, he looked back at her sitting at the table, feeling a bit nervous about things. He watched her profile as she looked at the crowd of people and saw her temporarily close her eyes. She truly was beautiful and he wasn’t lying when he told her how stunning she is. Then her eyes opened and she looked over at him, a shyness to the smile that came over her lips when their eyes met.

“Thank you”, she said when he came back with the drinks.
“You know I have a million questions.”
“Do your worst then”, she said.
“What does that mean?” he asked curiously for it was an odd expression.
“It’s something my father always said to us growing up. His way of telling us to do well at something was to tell us to ‘do our worst’. And whenever we wanted to ask him something he would say the same thing. Sorry, it’s an odd expression.
“I like it. Your father sounds a bit like mine.”

He was smiling, liking the openness that was unfolding between them.

“You have a beautiful smile.”
This made her smile again.
“I really hope you don’t think I’m too bold”, he said.
“I do, actually…but I guess that comes with being a pilot. Without nerve you wouldn’t make it very far, would you?”
“Can the same be said for nursing?”
“I’d like to think compassion plays more of a role in what I do.”
“True”, he said. “But still, you have to have nerve for the job you do.”
“Not when it comes natural to you.”
“I feel the same way about flying.”

He took out a cigarette and she watched as he put it between his lips. He lit the match, put it up to the end, and inhaled. For a few moments his face was obscured by the smoke that he exhaled from his lips.

“May I?” she asked, looking at the cigarette.
“You can have one if you like.”
“No, just a drag, please. If you don’t mind.”

He did not mind. He let her take it from his hand and watched as she put the butt of the cigarette between her lips and as she inhaled she closed her eyes. She looked like she was really enjoying it and he smiled.

She handed it back to him.

“Thank you.”
“You can have it.”
“No, I can’t. Trying to quit, you see.”
“You’re allowed a guilty pleasure.”

She had come this far so she thought there was no point being coy anymore.

“That’s why I’m here.”
A surprised and yet delighted look came over his face to hear such honesty from someone who had been closed like an oyster until now.
“It’s not every day that you get a note from a handsome stranger, asking you to meet him for a secret rendezvous on New Year’s Eve.”
“It’s not every day that I come across someone as beautiful and as…difficult as you.”
He chose that word carefully.
“I’m not trying to be difficult.”
“Then I take it you’re this way with everyone?”
“Yes, actually…even handsome strangers.”
“This handsome stranger promises to be a gentleman, as long as you promise to dance with me.”

The wine had gone to her head. The cat was out of the bag. The guards were asleep and the castle was vulnerable to attack.

“I suppose we should. If I have any more wine I may not be able to dance at all.”

He stood up, smiled, and extended his hand to her. He saw a serious look come over her face and despite the wine that had been talking, he could see a nervousness to her. He was feeling the same way but was doing a much better job of hiding it.

It was a long walk to the dance floor, or at least it felt that way. Adele followed, his hand holding hers. She allowed herself to be guided by him but felt a sea of butterflies in her stomach. There was something in her that just wanted to give in and stop worrying about the world but it was so difficult to completely let go. She hoped that when they danced she would not be a nervous wreck.

When he found a suitable place he stopped and turned towards her, looking down as he held out his arms to embrace for the dance. She looked around, up at him, then let herself be guided by his actions. Once in his arms, she let his movements and the music guide her. For the longest time she did not look up at him but could feel he was looking at her. They did not speak.

She was relieved when the song finished and the band started playing something a bit more fun. It allowed her to have some distance from him as they danced to a quicker song. People cut in as they danced and soon they were swept up in a crowd of people, losing one another temporarily. Tom took the opportunity to remind her of something she had said before, shouting it over the heads of the other dancers that were between the two of them.

“I thought you said you didn’t like to dance!”
“I lied!”
“What else have you lied about?”

She just smiled and continued to dance. When a slower song came on a while later and a young man asked Adele to dance, Tom moved in almost before the young man could get the words out of his mouth.

“Sorry, old chap. This one is spoken for.”

Adele smiled as the young man walked away, clearly not wanting to challenge.

“That was bold.”
“I’m not about to lose the most attractive woman in the room to some young chap.”
He paused, remembering to be a gentleman.
“Will you dance with me?”
“Yes, I will, even though the wine has worn off.”
“Then we best get you another glass.”

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Re: A Message (Short Story)

He grabbed two glasses of champagne that waiters were starting to bring around as the clock approached midnight, and passed her one.

“To a new year…” he said, choosing his next words carefully. “And new possibilities.”
“New possibilities.”

After their toast, they drank the champagne and joined together when the music started to slow down. The minutes were close to midnight and couples were drawing close together in anticipation of the new year that was nearly upon them. Adele allowed him once again to lead and found that the more time she spent in his arms, the more comfortable she was feeling.

For the first time in a long time, she allowed herself to float away from the reality of her existence, from the reality of the war, and from the reality of her loneliness. She would never allow herself to admit this to herself in her waking hours and bore life with an English “stiff upper lip”. Not that her work wasn’t rewarding but it was all she had and all that she was willing to have. She shut out the world in her own attempt to survive. Now, being here with Tom, she didn’t care if this was the last night she was going to live because it just felt so good to be with him.

She did not know it but for Tom the world was blocked out as well. He had his head leaning against hers, thinking of how wonderful her hair smelt and how warm her body was. She felt so delicate and feminine in his arms. He wasn’t thinking about the war and he wasn’t thinking about where he was even, just that he was alive and that every fibre of his body felt connected to hers.

For those moments, the world was lost to both of them. The music had picked up slightly but they were still dancing slowly. They did not notice it. She felt his breath on her head, close to her ear, and the sound shut out the music, the voices and the singing.

When the countdown began, she looked up at him. He smiled and at the same time they joined in with the rest of the crowd. As the count got closer to 1, it got louder. Adele was mouthing the words, watching the way his mouth moved as he counted down. When the new year was official, he paused. They stopped dancing. The confetti and balloons were falling from the ceiling, the party horns were blowing, and everyone started the words to “Auld Lang Syne”. They stood there and she waited anxiously as he seemed to stare at her almost breathlessly.

“Happy new year”, she said.
“Happy new year.”
“Aren’t you going to kiss me?”

She could hardly believe the bold words coming out of her mouth but it was what she was expecting and could hardly believe he was taking so long to do it. His smile almost seemed shy but it didn’t last long as his lips finally met hers. Adele gently leaned in and kissed his warm lips.

They were holding back for the first few seconds but then unable to contain themselves anymore, Tom held her head in his hands and pulled her into a fiery and passionate kiss. Surprised but pleased by his move, she allowed herself to be taken in by his lips, by his body. She could taste the champagne on them and it made her kiss him deeper. Next, his hands went to her waist and pulled her up against his body. She put her arms around his shoulders and neck, lost in the warmth of his body and lips. They remained lost like this for minutes.

When they parted, he rested his forehead against hers and they stood there, breathless. Her hands were on his chest and she felt a bit weak from the force of the kiss. He did not say anything but instead, brought her towards his body once again and held her in a warm embrace. She closed her eyes, rested her head on his chest, and wondered how on earth this had happened so quickly. She went there with her walls up and now she was putty in his arms.

The night left them with endless possibilities for the future ahead. When they parted, they parted as potential lovers. Tom made her promise that she would see him again because he feared that once the alcohol wore off in the morning that she would regret her evening with him and the openness that she had showed. When they parted on the steps of the hotel, he watched as she got into the taxi and looked back at him. He took her hand once more before she could leave and told her not to break her promise to see him again.

She got into the cab and allowed herself to breathe fully for the first time all night. She did not intend to break her promise to him, especially not after he had managed to destroy her fortress – a fortress she had spent most of her adult life building - with a single kiss. She left there feeling excited at what the new year would bring.
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